Concerns grow over lack of new medical specialists entering field next year

A man waits to see a doctor next to a notice that warns of long waiting hours posted at a major hospital in Seoul, Wednesday. Yonhap

The number of new medical specialists next year could be zero amid the prolonged confrontation between the government and doctors over the planned hike in the medical school admissions quota. The country usually produces approximately 3,000 medical specialists every year.The projection is raising concerns that the already significant disuptions in hospital operations could escalate further.Medical specialists in Korea are those who have been fully trained for a certain specialty such as pediatrics, obstetrics or orthopedics.These highly trained personnel are produced when trainee doctors pass a related exam after going through a year-long internship and three to four years of a residency program at a training hospital after acquiring a doctor’s license upon graduating from medical school.The next medical specialist exam is scheduled for February next year.Concerns are rising as more than 90 percent of the country’s 13,000 trainee doctors have walked away from their duties since Feb. 20 to protest the government’s medical school quota hike plan. Among them, 2,910 are in the third or fourth year of their residency program and therefore are subject to the exam.

If they do not return to work by May 20 — after three months since their collective action began — they will be disqualified and unable to take the exam due to lack of training.Rules governing the training and qualifications of doctors stipulate that trainee doctors should go through additional training if they are absent for more than a month. If the hiatus period exceeds three months, they are unable to complete their residency program that year and are disqualified from taking the medical specialist qualification exam. In such instances, they are made to wait another year before they can take the exam.This was why the Ministry of Health and Welfare threatened to suspend the licenses of trainee doctors on strike for three months, as a means to pressure those who defied the return-to-work order. This threat has failed to bring doctors on strike back to their hospitals, and their failure to take the exam next February means no new medical specialists will be produced next year.“The deadline for returning to work [in order to acquire medical specialist qualifications] will vary among individuals as the timing of when they walked off their jobs differs,” a ministry official said, Wednesday. “But one thing is for sure, the hiatus period should not exceed three months in their residency 메이저 program to be qualified to take the exam for medical specialists.”

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